I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, November 30, 2014

How I deal with difficulty

Cold and windy Samish Bay
I took this picture yesterday afternoon on a very cold and windy hike with three friends. If you enlarge it, you can see the whitecaps on the water, as the wind was blowing hard, dropping the already low temperature even lower. In no time at all, my formerly warm self (from climbing up to this spot) was so cold it was scary. We hustled back down into the trees as quickly as we could, but for the rest of the hike I was unable to get really warm again. After I came home, I drank warm tea and sat in my recliner with a blanket over me, until finally I felt the chill of the day leave me.

Last night I had a strange dream. I was in a familiar place which had gone through renovations since I last visited. Although I knew where everything was, it was slightly out of place from what I felt was normal. I kept trying to deal with it, and there was a man who took delight in tormenting me and trying to make me feel bad about my discomfiture. This morning I can still feel the uncomfortable feelings he raised in me. I remember in the dream having to make a decision about how to respond to him: to treat him the same way, fight back, or stand up for myself in some other way.

Although it was only a dream, it stays with me this morning. Partly I think it's because the way I decided to respond was to calmly ask my spirit guide to help me; in other words, I turned the predicament over to my higher self. And even though this morning I cannot remember what I said to him, I remember my feeling of serenity and a look that appeared in his eyes, almost of fear. What he had tried to do didn't work, and he didn't know how to act in response.

What this dream reminds me is that fighting conflict with more conflict is counterproductive in my life. It's always been that way, even though my initial response to someone trying to harm me is to retaliate in kind. But that is not the only way, as many of our sages have told us through millennia. And meekly turning one's belly to the sky like dogs do, as a way to placate a stronger foe, is not the way either.

I know how easy it is to fall into the trap of feeling bad about myself when someone makes fun of me, what happens when I feel ridiculed. When I was young, moving from place to place with my parents, I learned some coping mechanisms for being the "new girl" for much of my early life. It was easy to be enigmatic and mysterious when nobody knew who I was. But eventually there would be some bully who would try to make me lose my composure, and it almost always worked. I would make an effort to placate him or her, and that never turned out well. As an extrovert, I would usually make new friends and avoid the bully, but inside I always believed that I had been found out as being somehow defective.

As I grew older, I began to realize that the people that I surrounded myself with made more difference than anything else I could do. Knowing that I would never be one of the cool kids and hanging out with people more like me made all the difference. It also helped that we never stayed anywhere more than a few years, and I would have the chance to make new friends again. But always underlying my interaction with my peers was a vague sense that I had to hide my true self in order to fit in with them.

What is my true self? What is that part of myself that I call my Higher Self? Who is that spirit guide I call on in times of need? I'm not really sure I can put it into words, but I know it is there. When I have been at my lowest and most distraught, there is a presence that makes itself known to me, and I realize that I've learned to access it through calling that presence my spirit guide. The hardest part, for me, is realizing that I am not really in control, that I go astray when I think I myself, my ego, can figure out how to carry on. Surrounding myself with good counsel, whether external or internal, is how I've learned to cope with difficulty.

Being uncomfortable and in conflict with others, or our environment, is part of life. How one learns to cope with it makes us each unique and valuable. The main thing I've learned is that nothing stays the same, nothing and nobody is permanent in this world. Everything changes. Maybe that's one of the blessings of growing older: one's trajectory of life contains both magnificence and despair, and all those peaks and valleys begin to even out as the years pass.

Yesterday when I was coldest, with my fingers like blocks of ice, I knew that if I kept going, I would soon feel differently. And it was true; I've learned that nothing stays the same. When I was up there in the icy wind, I felt its incredible power and knew that if I had stayed there, it would take my life from me. But I didn't stay and moved back into the trees where we were sheltered from the wind. We kept on going until we were warm again. And I was not alone.

The sun is still not up, but my tea is gone, and my partner still sleeps next to me (that's for you, Friko). The day is filled with promise and the wind has died down. It will be sunny and cold here for the next few days, and I'll enjoy them to the fullest, no matter what they bring. I hope that you will do the same, and remember, you're not alone, either. Be well until we meet again next week.

17 comments:

Rian said...

DJan, dreams are strange. Sometimes it seems that what they are trying to tell us is obvious, other times... just a jumble of strange thoughts and/or ideas. Mine lately are almost always conflicting??

But I have come to the same conclusion as you when it involves difficulties - although it's natural to feel that it'll never get better, it's amazing what a difference a day (or a week or a year) makes. Knowing this is important.

As for your true self/higher self and spirit guide (semantics?), IMO we all have them, just call them something different. I think of my true self/higher self as my *soul* and my spirit guide, the *god particle* within me. It's that part of ourselves we retreat to in desperate times... needing help that no one else can give or looking for answers that can only be found within ourselves.

And yes, (again IMO) surrounding yourself with good people (people who make you want to be a better person)is the way to go.

Have a wonderful day!

John's Island said...

Good Morning DJan, I really do think you should put together a book. A compilation of your Sunday musings would be perfect. Your reflections on life are always interesting. I’m sure that those who are lucky enough to find your blog will be comparing your experiences to their own, and, of course, everyone is different, but there is a thread of commonality in your reflections, that, for me at least, leaves me saying, Yes, I know what she is saying. I guess I’m going to have to go back in your archives and read some of your posts before I found your blog … I think it was sometime last spring. Now, regarding today’s post: This is just perfect … “one of the blessings of growing older: one's trajectory of life contains both magnificence and despair, and all those peaks and valleys begin to even out as the years pass.” I wish you hadn’t needed to experience the haunting dream that put you on today’s topic, but I sure appreciate the thoughts it generated. Have a great week and stay warm up there! John

Far Side of Fifty said...

WELL!! I think you are one of the cool kids!
Some dreams are really crazy...sounds like you had one of them!
Always being the new girl must have been hard, long term friendships were almost impossible...but you had Norma Jean. WHO by the way you have not mentioned lately, I hope she is well:)

KH said...

Thanks for sharing these thoughts.

Elephant's Child said...

What an awful dream. I suspect it would haunt me for days.
I loathe conflict, and avoid it when I can. Some fights have to be had though...
I love that you are going to enjoy the promise of the next days - as you do almost every day.

gigihawaii said...

I rarely remember my dreams. Lol. When people disturb me, I always think of people who will defend me, either physically or mentally. It helps.

Gigi said...

As with the other Gigi, I never remember my dreams either - but when I do, they haunt me.

As I've gotten older, like you, I find that even when things/times are bad, now I know that eventually I will come out on the other side. When I was younger, it seemed that things would never change.

Have a wonderful week!

Arkansas Patti said...

I agree with Far Side, you are one of the cool kids that grew into an even cooler adult.
You have found a great way to handle conflict. I always tend to ignore my first instinct which is to bow up and eventually can find a tactful way to let my attacker know I disagree or decide it is not a battle I want. Time--if only minutes-- is my weapon.

Retired English Teacher said...

Those dreams that don't leave us can be so unsettling. It was interesting to see how you worked out the dream in your mind after you awoke.

Things don't stay the same. That is a comforting reality.

Red said...

This is a very thoughtful post. It's rather a deep subject as to how we deal with stress. We have to be satisfied in our self to have strength for many challenges. I'm afraid I'm avoid or put things off. I do not confront. I learned to be quiet with kids when they were upset .

Glenda C. Beall said...

Great post, as usual. Like you, I was not one of the cool kids. I was shy and never tried to make friends. I felt that others were judging me and I always came up short. But today, as I am older, wiser and mature, I know that others had the same fears, the same insecurities I had and now I think about how they are feeling rather than how I feel. Makes so much difference in my happiness with myself. If we only knew when we were young, what we know now.

Rita said...

I was born with a warrior's heart--protector of the weak--would take on strangers (even adults when I was a child) when I saw injustice or cruelty. I would put my life on the line for others without hesitation...but defend myself when verbally attacked? Well, I always wondered if they were right and felt unworthy and small and wanted to go crawl in a hole somewhere. Has taken decades for me to learn not to react either with the sword or to curl up in a ball inside my head, but with my heart.

From my guide I got--don't get small, get large. Love is large. Fear is small. It was love that drove me to protect others. You can make an immediate difference with righteous anger and that wild, expansive, bottomless love...but the only way you can make a change, a truly lasting difference, is with love that comes from a deeper place...from your heart...from your safe place...from beyond fear. Hard to explain, but I know how it feels and what it is.

I have had dreams where I have to stop and change my instinctive reaction...be it sword (but don't we sometimes need the sword mentality--say if someone is beating a person or an animal--or someone needs help like a car accident or tornado?) or be it the curled protective ball. I keep being guided to make myself even more vulnerable--to stand in love. Not even fight with love, but stand calmly in love. And I have seen it work small miracles--so then why is it still so hard to do? Whew--sorry to go on, but you touched my novice soul with this one, for sure. I love your Sunday posts!! Much love and hugs!! :)

barbara judge said...

I agree with you that the edges of our highs and lows get softer as we age. Just one more plus to aging -- barbara

June said...

I have a hard time handing it over, but whenever I do, I actually feel as if I can stand a little taller without that weight on my shoulders. Thank you for reminding me.
I also, in pondering this post, remembered, "They aren't doing it to you, they're just doing it." That one's a big help to me too.

Linda Reeder said...

I don't know that I have a spirit guide, or even a higher self, I just know that whatever I get myself into, it's up to me to work my way through it, and so I find the strength to do it. Maybe it's just that I was taught to work hard and not be a quitter. Even so, it's never easy to get that higher self to persevere.

Friko said...

I’ve said it many times before, you are a wise old girl and this post is one of your best.

I think the spirit guide you have is you, your innermost core, your own personal strength; a strength you can call on in your darkest moments.

Perhaps we can only become the fully mature people we are when we reach the peaceful time of life, when we stop rushing about and thinking every little thing matters.

But as you say, nothing ever stays the same and there is always hope of a new beginning, even at 70!

Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

See, I'm not the only one who thinks there's a book in all this material! This post is extraordinary!